From the battle of the half-backs to some mouth-watering match-ups in the back row, today’s Heineken Cup quarter-final between Leinster and Leicester Tigers has all the ingredients. A home semi-final is at stake in this repeat of the 2009 decider.
HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL: Saturday, April 9
LEINSTER v LEICESTER TIGERS, Aviva Stadium, 6pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2/highlights RTE 2)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Leicester Tigers in Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium has been named.
Sean O’Brien will make his 50th Leinster appearance against Leicester, the current Aviva Premiership leaders. He continues in the back row alongside fellow Ireland internationals Jamie Heaslip and Kevin McLaughlin.
Scrum half Eoin Reddan’s inclusion at the expense of Isaac Boss is the only change to the Leinster team that lost to Munster last Saturday night.
Leo Cullen leads the side and partners Nathan Hines once again in the second row, with Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross completing the pack.
Gordon D’Arcy links up with Brian O’Driscoll in a back-line which features six Ireland internationals, including the competition’s top points scorer so far this season, out-half Jonathan Sexton (76 points).
The Ireland-capped Boss, Fergus McFadden and Devin Toner have been named amongst the replacements, with the fit-again Stan Wright poised to make his first Heineken Cup appearance since last May. Ex-Tigers flanker Shane Jennings misses out with a knee injury.
Leinster captain Leo Cullen, who spent two years playing for Leicester, said: “Their game is based on physicality. That’s the way Leicester prepare and try to live their lives day to day. It is reflected in their performance.
“It’s a tough environment over there. They tend to kick lumps out of each other when they train and they try to replicate that when they play, so we know it’s going to be a massively physical confrontation.
“There’s some days Leicester might go out (to train) and say we’re doing 50 scrums here today. That mentality was there when I was there. It’s old school in many ways.
“It’s a massive emphasis on the basics. When you have the basics right and you are winning collisions, rugby can be quite an easy game.”
Meanwhile, Louis Deacon will return to the Leicester Tigers’ starting line-up against Leinster on Saturday evening.
The long-serving lock teams up with Steve Mafi in the Leicester second row in one of two changes to the pack that started last weekend’s Aviva Premiership win over Harlequins.
Boris Stankovich comes into the front row in place of the suspended Marcos Ayerza. Experienced prop Julian White joins Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni on a replacements bench which also includes Ireland-capped out-half Jeremy Staunton. Geordan Murphy remains sidelined with a broken foot.
Hoping his side can make a strong start at the home of Irish rugby, the returning Louis Deacon said: “If you go back to that England game at the Aviva Stadium, we didn’t have the ball for 30 minutes and, when we did, we gave it straight back. That puts pressure on you.
“We’ve got to look after those areas of the game, control the set piece and get into the game early. This quarter-final is our biggest game of the season so far, and we are going to have to come up with the big performance to match the occasion.”
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Heinke van der Merwe, Stan Wright, Devin Toner, Dominic Ryan, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.
LEICESTER TIGERS: Scott Hamilton; Horacio Agulla, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Allen, Alesana Tuilagi; Toby Flood, Ben Youngs; Boris Stankovich, George Chuter, Dan Cole, Louis Deacon, Steve Mafi, Tom Croft, Craig Newby (capt), Jordan Crane.
Replacements: Rob Hawkins, Julian White, Martin Castrogiovanni, Ed Slater, Thomas Waldrom, James Grindal, Jeremy Staunton, Matt Smith.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 2/5; Draw: 20/1; Leicester Tigers to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Nathan Hines (Leinster) – “Leicester do what they do, and if we’re not more accurate and effective than we were last weekend then we could end up on the end of the same result,” he said.
“It’s a pressure game, isn’t it? They’ve got extremely effective forwards, a strong front five and a pretty quick and mobile back row. If they get any sort of ascendancy up front, then they have got Toby Flood, a good distributor, and good runners off him.
“Against Munster we lost a little bit of momentum. We were a little bit inaccurate. I got turned over by (Ronan) O’Gara, of all people, and we didn’t run out.
“We lost a bit of shape. Just bit by bit, Munster got back into the game, got a couple of penalties that relieved a little bit of pressure and they kicked some penalties as well.
“Leicester bring their physicality every weekend. We have to fight fire with fire and on a couple of occasions we have done it this year. We’ve just got to make sure we bring that intensity this weekend.”
Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers) – “Going to Leinster will be a huge challenge and they will be odds-on favourites in Dublin with a team full of quality players who are coming off the back of doing superbly well in the last game of the Six Nations.
“We will certainly have our work cut out but we’re not looking in bad shape. However, I do not agree that it will be a case of Leicester’s forwards against Leinster’s backs.
“We have got backs at Leicester to compete with anyone and Leinster have a set of forwards who can do likewise.
“Having Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings back has helped bring huge intensity to their game, they have two props that played against England a couple of weeks ago, they have a Scotland international in Nathan Hines as well as Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien.
“It’s a tremendous pack and perhaps that has been overlooked because there has always been so much focus on the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa and Rob Kearney. Leinster have class right across the board so it will be interesting to see what style they bring on the day.
“Leinster are very used to playing at the Aviva Stadium and I’m sure they will relish the opportunity to play against English opposition in front of a partisan crowd.
“I was in Dublin for Ireland against England – and it was a very nice day – but that was Ireland against England and this is Leinster versus Leicester so it’s a different game altogether.
“I don’t think either team need any more motivation than knowing it’s the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup.
“It’s very disappointing to miss out on these big occasions and games against Leinster are extra special for me so I’m even more gutted to miss out. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when the crowd gets going and you’re sat on sidelines but fingers crossed that I will be back before the end of the season.
“I have an operation on April 12 to take the pins, screws and wires out of my foot then it’s all about how quickly I can recover.
“If I’m jogging in April then I’ll have the opportunity to train with the rest of the squad and if I’m sprinting by mid-May then hopefully I could make the end of the season.”
Current Form – Leinster – (Magners League): Lost 11-3 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 30-5 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 26-15 at home to the Scarlets; Won 26-16 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 24-23 away to Munster
Leicester Tigers – (Aviva Premiership): Won 21-12 at home to London Wasps; Won 18-16 away to Sale Sharks; Lost 15-14 at home to Saracens; Won 37-6 away to Bath; Won 17-13 away to Harlequins
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 76; Tries: Sean O’Brien 4; Leicester Tigers – Points: Toby Flood 62; Tries: Alesana Tuilagi 4
Previous European Meetings: 10
Saturday, May 23, 2009 – Final – Leinster 19 Leicester Tigers 16, Murrayfield
Saturday, January 19, 2008 – Pool 6 – Leicester Tigers 25 Leinster 9, Welford Road
Saturday, November 10, 2007 – Pool 6 – Leinster 22 Leicester Tigers 9, The RDS
Saturday, April 2, 2005 – Heineken Cup quarter-final – Leinster 13 Leicester Tigers 29, Lansdowne Road
Sunday, January 27, 2002 – Heineken Cup quarter-final – Leicester Tigers 29 Leinster 18, Welford Road
Saturday, January 15, 2000 – Pool 1 – Leicester Tigers 10 Leinster 32, Welford Road
Friday, November 19, 1999 – Pool 1 – Leinster 27 Leicester Tigers 20, Donnybrook
Saturday, September 27, 1997 – Pool A – Leicester Tigers 47 Leinster 22, Welford Road
Friday, September 12, 1997 – Pool A – Leinster 16 Leicester Tigers 9, Donnybrook
Wednesday, October 16, 1996 – Pool B – Leinster 10 Leicester Tigers 27, Lansdowne Road
Heineken Cup Records:
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1995/96: Reached the semi-finals
Leicester Tigers –
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the semi-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1997/98: Reached the quarter-finals